Eating at desk creates a haven for bacteria
By Amy Tousman
By Amy Tousman
Do I need to worry about germs when I eat at my desk?
A. For many working people, including myself, eating lunch is just another task to juggle during a busy working day of e-mails, phone calls and meetings. According to the American Dietetic Association, approximately 70 percent of Americans eat at their desks several times per week. We have become so crunched for time that we feel we need to multitask during lunch.
Eating at your desk can create a haven for unhealthy bacteria. A study by University of Arizona microbiology professor Charles Gerba found that our office areas contain 400 times more bacteria than our toilet seats. Gerba says, "People turn their desks into bacteria cafeterias because they eat at them and never clean them." In his study, telephones came in as the No. 1 home for office germs, followed by desks, then the computer mouse and the computer keyboard.
To help keep germs at bay:
• Disinfect your desk. According to Gerba, "Wiping your desk area with disinfecting wipes once a day is enough to get it clean. Don't just use a damp cloth or paper towel because they will just spread the germs around. Be sure to get your phone, keyboard and mouse as well, and avoid touching those surfaces while you're eating, otherwise you're just contaminating your food over and over again."
• Place food on a napkin or plate, not directly on a table surface. Placemats are a good idea because they create a barrier between the food and the bacteria.
• Many people don't wash their hands before eating lunch or snacks. If you're not leaving your desk for lunch, chances are you are one of them. Ideally, you should wash your hands before and after eating. Although soap and water are best, if you can't get to a restroom to wash your hands, keep hand sanitizer at your desk.
• If you don't have a refrigerator at work, pack your lunch in an insulated lunch bag and add an ice pack to keep food cold. If you bring carry-out food back to your desk, don't wait too long to eat it. Perishable food should never sit out more than two hours. At that point, bacteria start to multiply rapidly, increasing your chances of food poisoning.
So now, in addition to preventing carpal tunnel and eyestrain, you have another reason to get up from your computer at lunch time.
Amy Tousman is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Nutrition Unlimited in Kailua. Hawai'i experts in traditional medicine, naturopathic medicine and diet take turns writing the Prescriptions column. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; email@example.com; or fax 535-8170. This column is not intended to provide medical advice.